Austal USA builds littoral combat ships, including the Coronado, and joint high speed vessels at its shipyard in Mobile, Ala. (Austal via U.S. Navy)
Joseph Rella, who as president and chief operating officer of aluminum ship builder Austal USA managed the company’s expansion to build two classes of ships for the U.S. Navy, tendered his resignation June 21, reportedly leaving the company for personal reasons.
Chief Financial Officer Brian Leathers has been named interim president, the company announced June 26, while Craig Perciavalle was named senior vice president of shipyard operations.
No other personnel moves have taken place, the company said.
“This transition is a natural step,” Austal CEO Andrew Bellamy said in a news release. ”We are moving from infrastructure growth to a focus of putting this cutting-edge yard to work meeting the terms of our Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) contracts and strengthening the overall management of operations.”
“The Board of Directors is currently conducting a leadership search, and a new president of Austal USA will be announced in due course,” Bellamy added.
The move came as a surprise to many observers, including the company’s Navy customer. Rella had held the top position at Austal USA since October 2007.
“I’ve been there four and a half years,” Rella told Defense News in a telephone interview. “I’m looking forward to my next opportunity, perhaps a larger role, a larger shipyard.”
Rella said he had not been asked to resign. “No,” he said, “I left on my own terms.”
Maritime analyst Tim Colton speculated on his website that Dugan Shipway, a retired Navy admiral who ran the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine for General Dynamics and is now on Austal USA’s board of directors, could be named to replace Rella.
Craig Hooper, a spokesman for Austal USA, said that no replacement has been announced.
Austal USA, a subsidiary of its Australian parent Austal, specializes in building aluminum high-speed ships. It builds both LCSs and JHSVs at its shipyard in Mobile, Ala.
“We have much to do,” Leathers said in the statement. “Austal is under contract with the U.S. Navy to build nine Spearhead-class Joint High Speed Vessels under a 10-ship, $1.6 billion contract, and five Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ships, four of which are part of a 10-ship, $3.5 billion contract. The people, the plant and the processes are in place and Austal USA will be busy building ships for years to come.”